Texas Competes with L.A./Las Vegas for First True High-Speed Line in U.S.
Plans for a Houston to Dallas high-speed line got a big boost this week when the project’s private developer, Texas Central, awarded a nearly $6 billion contract to the Spanish company Renfe to develop and operate the line. Renfe operates Spain’s HSR network, which is the second-largest in the world.
Construction is expected to begin later this year, and Texas Central expects the line to be in operation by 2026. Either the Houston-Dallas line or a Las Vegas-Los Angeles line—which Virgin Trains expects to open in 2023—will become the first true high-speed line in the U.S. (See item below.) California’s Central Valley line is scheduled to open in 2028.
Bullet trains running at 205 mph will cover the 240 miles from Houston to Dallas in 1.5 hours—versus a driving time of about 4.5 hours—with a stop near Texas A&M University in the Brazos Valley. There will initially be two trains per hour, each way, running 18 hours each day.
Texas Central has already signed a contract with an Italian civil engineering firm, Salini Impregilo, to build the high-speed rail line. It will run customized versions of Shinkansen trains used by Central Japan Railway, which are the lightest, quietest, widest-bodied, and most energy-efficient high-speed trains currently in production, according to Texas Central.
Japanese high-speed trains began operating in 1964 and have never had a passenger injury or fatality. The road connecting Houston and Dallas, I-45, is the second most dangerous highway in the U.S., with about 55 fatalities per 100 miles every two years.Dallas and Houston combined have a $1.1 trillion economy, which would be the 14th largest economy in the world if it were a separate country. They have 5 percent of the U.S. population and account for 6 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. The population of Texas is expected to double by 2045.
Experts Say the Time has Arrived for High-Speed Rail
High-speed rail projects funded by private firms are progressing across the country, and there is strong potential for much more investment, according to a recent panel on the future of high-speed rail.
HIgh Speed Rail Alliance Executive Director Rick Harnish took part in the event, which was sponsored by the Chicago Municipal Analysts Society.“The most populous states in the country are broken, from a transportation perspective,” said Tim Keith, Chief Investment Officer of Texas Central, a private firm developing a high-speed line between Houston and Dallas. (See item above.) “The roads work but they’re congested. The airlines are congested. And passengers want different experiences.”
Ken Nicholson, a managing director with Fortress Investment Group, spoke about its partnership with Virgin Trains USA in developing the line between Miami and West Palm Beach. It will ultimately extend to Orlando and Tampa Bay. The group is also planning to build a line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
A video produced by Fortress noted that several factors are making high-speed rail a premium transportation and investment option right now, including increased demand for productivity, decreased demand for vehicle ownership, and “the general trend toward safer, more eco-friendly, and experiential travel.
”Nicholson said that the new line from L.A. to Las Vegas will cut travel times by at least half—from 3 to 4 hours to less than 1.5 hours. “It’s just a disaster of a drive if you’re driving at peak hours,” he said. “We think that’s just a game changer for both Las Vegas and Los Angeles.” Construction will begin on the line later this year, and it could begin operations by 2023.
Congress is now debating the Fast Act Reauthorization, which will have a significant near-term impact on national rail policy and funding.
California High Speed Rail Authority Seeks Input 80-Mile HSR Segment
The California High Speed Rail Authority has just released the first Draft Environmental Document for the Bakersfield to Palmdale segment of its Bay Area to Los Angeles high-speed line. Several public meetings are scheduled for March and April, and the CHSRA is accepting comments on the document through April 13.
The 80-mile segment, which passes through the Tehachapi mountain range and poses daunting engineering and construction challenges, “will provide a connection from the Central Valley to the Antelope Valley and Los Angeles County, closing the existing passenger rail gap between Northern and Southern California,” according to the CHSRA.